Fasting – Br. David Allen

Mt. 9:10-17

The passage read as today’s Gospel is a series of closely connected events occurring early in Jesus’ ministry; just after he had called Matthew to be one of his disciples.

We heard that as Jesus sat at dinner many tax collectors and “sinners” came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. (This was also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.)  In Luke’s Gospel it says that Levi, whom we also know as Matthew, had invited Jesus to eat at his house.  It may be that Matthew did not feel it necessary to say in his Gospel where it occurred.

The place where they were eating was apparently fairly big. It not only accommodated Jesus and his disciples, but we know also that many tax collectors and sinners, and some Pharisees were there.

We heard that the Pharisees asked the disciples of Jesus, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  When Jesus heard this he addressed all of them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” He told them to look at the writings of the Prophet Hosea and learn what the phrase, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” meant.  (Hos. 6:6).  Jesus made it clear that his mission was not to the righteous but those who were considered sinners.

This event was followed by some disciples of John the Baptist asking Jesus why he and his disciples did not fast when they and the Pharisees fasted often.  We know that Jesus answered that by comparing himself to a bridegroom at a wedding, and his disciples to the guests.

As we enter into this season of Lent this discussion of fasting gives us an opportunity to consider the significance that fasting has for us.  We think of Lent as a time for concentrating on spiritual disciplines.  As we do this we can see that there are other ways in which we can fast besides abstaining from food.

Jesus’ statement that it was not appropriate for him and his disciples to fast while he was still with them leads straight into two examples of practicality, using suitable material for patching clothes and putting new wine into new, fresh leather containers instead of trying to re-use old ones for storing wine.  The analogy that we can see there is Jesus awareness of the need for his teaching to be seen as a new and vital way of keeping God’s law of love; as a broader and deeper interpretation of that love.  Jesus’ way was not simply sewing patches on the minutia of the rules and regulations that had proliferated during the years of the exile of the Hebrew people when they had escaped from Egypt, or the interpretations that had been added on in the following centuries.

Now as we enter another season of Lent we have the opportunity of examining our understanding of the way in which Jesus saw his mission of renewing people’s grasp of the truths of God’s Reign in terms of mercy, peace, and love.  We can do this as we compare the problems that Jesus encountered in his generation with the problems that we see around us in our generation in many different ways.  We can then pray for a deeper understanding of the problems of each generation by seeing how Jesus responded to those he encountered. By our prayer we can learn how to understand and deal more clearly with the problems of our own age.

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  1. Rhode on January 11, 2019 at 13:04

    Thought provoking. ‘I require mercy not sacrifice.’ – mercy, now might be to open all borders and find find ways to integrate all those seeking asylum at the sacrifice of pride and tax dollars. Perhaps mercy would be to fast for wisdom, discernment and strength sacrificing our punitive rights when we are wronged. Christ knows how we react after being hit on the left cheek. We are human and self righteous. We will struggle everyday because the sacrifice of truly loving each other as neighbors is hard and gritty and sometimes at the cost of all we have that keeps us comfortable and feeling safe. But I continue to hope and believe this is possible with Gods help.

  2. Reed Saunders on January 11, 2019 at 06:52

    Not until I hit my bottom could I fall into the loving hands of God’s mercy and grace.

  3. marie on January 10, 2017 at 11:15

    Ah, I love what you’ve written Br. David Allen! Thank you! I long to take a strong hold of Jesus (I call Him Yeshua) and never let go, just hold tighter and tighter to Him until my last breath. He dealt with so many issues that we deal with today, yes! Problems, criticism, relationships, injustice, persecution… Keeping in mind His priorities and His ways of relating in love, lift us up out of a morass of confusing platitudes. Desiring to please Him, and striving to hear, obey, and be subject to the Comforter’s guidance ~ which often surprises and alleviates conflict and makes all the difference ~ will reflect His love and heart! I love what you wrote!

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  5. Ruth West on September 3, 2015 at 00:19

    Br. David, thanks for this good Lenten message.
    I have been thinking lately much about spiritual discipline. How I need to pray more, read more, and fast, if needed! It definitely is not easy to fast.
    But it is a part of the gospel which we are told to do. May God grant me grace and strength to do these things on a regular basis.

  6. John David Spangler on August 27, 2015 at 06:16

    Br. David, cannot one apply your wise insight, “. . . Jesus awareness of the need for his teaching to be seen as a new and vital way of keeping God’s law of love; as a broader and deeper interpretation of that love. Jesus’ way was not simply sewing patches on the minutia . . .”, to Mary’s annointing Jesus’s feet (John: 12:3-8)?

  7. Anders on February 9, 2014 at 07:20

    Thank you for connecting Hosea’s prophesy ““I desire mercy, not sacrifice” with Jesus teachings. At times I feel that many conclusions we come to as Christians are more about sacrifice–adhering to the same belief structure–than mercy. Growing up I was honestly confused if we should emulate Jesus teachings or the Pharisees, which were closer to defining my experience of Christianity. Now that religious sacrifice and adherence has fallen out of favor in society at large, our way back to Jesus (and a viable church) is through mercy. Even in my occasional confusion and sense of rebellion, that has to start with me.

  8. John McCann on March 20, 2012 at 05:44

    I am a probationary Fellow for SSJE, and this is the first season I have concentrated on fasting. I am embarrassed to say that I have had a dificult time. Your words are immensely helpful, and will guide me through these remaining days of Lent, with a more focused spirit and to try harder.

    Thankfully in Christ,

    John McCann

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